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In this article, you will learn that you cannot directly help a recovering addict or alcoholic until you can help yourself first. An unwell family, greatly affected by addiction and family system dysfunction, cannot guide or help the person partly responsible for the dysfunction. A flooded mind in an emotional state is not well-equipped to help an addicted brain. You will learn that most of what you do to help your loved one involves setting boundaries and holding them accountable. Until an addict or alcoholic sees the need for change through consequences to their behaviors and actions, most can offer little to no help.
An addict and an alcoholic survive on comfort. As long as the substance user feels there is a more significant benefit to using substances than stopping the substance use, the substance use continues. A family can help by addressing the comfort they provide. In rare cases when the family offers little to no comfort, the strategy to help shifts to emotional leverage. Addicts and alcoholics do not want to feel bad, so they use drugs and alcohol. When they believe the benefits of substance use are not covering up how they feel any longer, they do something different.
When the loved one is in recovery, the family can and should apply the same principles. There is a direct correlation between what percentage of alcoholics and addicts recover and whether or not their families enter recovery too. Families’ biggest mistake is believing things are okay because they quit for a short time or are in treatment. A family should continue their recovery until they have the proper communication skills and self-awareness to sense improved behavior or a slipping back to old behaviors. The best way to do this is by watching their hips, not their lips.
Regarding a loved one in recovery, If the family waits for a return to active drug or alcohol use before taking action, it is far too late. Families in recovery will see the behaviors that lead to relapse long before it happens.
What is Recovery in Drug and Alcohol Addiction?
Recovery from Alcohol & Drug Addiction is the 5th stage of change, also known as the maintenance phase. Although we prefer to call it the growth phase, we believe the substance user should seek to grow and not stay the same or stagnate. That said, recovery from alcohol and drug use addresses the behaviors that lead to addiction.
Unfortunately, most people with a substance use disorder address their addiction backward. The majority go to treatment or stop using alcohol and drugs to reclaim the things in life they have lost. Many believe if substance users were to get their job back and their significant others back, reorganize their finances and dig out of their holes; they would be okay. Although repairing these things is very important, losing things is not the problem; the causes and symptoms of the behaviors that led to the use of alcohol and drugs are. When people enter treatment and do not address the causes, they dry out for a while before eventually resuming active substance use. The reason is only managing the symptoms does not deter one from engaging in the same behaviors that cause the symptoms. Drugs and alcohol are not the problem. The problem is the things that lead to the use of drugs and alcohol.
If alcohol and drugs were the problem, the addict or alcoholic would not need treatment. All one would need is a detox or a short stay in jail to overcome the substance use problem.
Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction starts with focusing on the behaviors, experiences, coping skills, or lack thereof, traumas, thoughts, beliefs, perception, accountability, selfishness, resentments, and ego, just to name a few. When accomplished, it significantly reduces, if not removes, the obsession to use substances. Although the thoughts may never go away, if the obsession is not removed due to changing the above concerns, the addict or alcoholic will most likely use it again.
We know that without a recovery program, an alcoholic or addict can not stop themselves from starting, and once they start, they cannot stop.
On a positive note, please do not be discouraged when we say the thoughts never go away. The goal is to remove the obsession and the compulsion to use alcohol or drugs. Once the substance user has lost the inability to choose and rationalizes, insanity is when they are doomed. Thoughts are manageable with a solid recovery program as thoughts will come and go. Our concern, as should be the addict or alcoholics’ concern, is when the ideas turn to the point of obsession, and the alcoholic or drug addict passes the point of no return.
How Can You Help an Addict or Alcoholic in Recovery?
How to help an addict or alcoholic quit or stay stopped is a question families often ask. One of the most important things to remember is for families not to let their guard down too soon. Far too often, families give in simply because their loved one entered treatment. Some even let their guard down because their loved ones said they would do something about their addiction problem.
A prevalent evidenced-based treatment called the CRAFT model stands for Community Reinforcement & Family Training. For one reason or another, families misread a critical part of the CRAFT model. This model does not encourage positive reinforcement when the addict or alcoholic uses substances or acts out volatile behavior; it states to do the opposite. The CRAFT model is about learned behaviors. When misapplied, the substance user will learn how to control you based on whether or not you learn how not to be controlled by them. When you enable and reward the substance user for bad behavior, they become entitled to the reward when they act out. When you change these enabling behaviors over time, you teach the substance user there will be no reward for their destructive behaviors and that there are consequences to those behaviors. We encourage families to prioritize their recovery and allow their loved ones to prioritize theirs by holding the loved one accountable for their actions.
The most effective way to help an addict or an alcoholic is to let go of believing you can control them or their recovery.
As much as a family cannot help or control their loved one’s addiction or recovery, there are many things they can do to hold their loved one accountable and take care of themselves. Family Education and Family Support are some of the best ways to help an addict or an alcoholic. Studies show that when a family gets better, it increases the chances their loved one will get better too. In our next section, we will discuss some practical tips for families to help themselves, which can help their loved ones addicted to drugs or alcohol seek help.
7 Tips for Supporting an Addict or an Alcoholic in Recovery
Some or all of these suggestions below may appear as if they are all about the family, and they are. You must let go of believing you can control your loved one and their recovery. You can only control yourself and how you cope with situations and problems. The good news is that most of what you do has a ripple effect and can directly tie to what they do in their recovery. Rather than focus on how to help or fix them, try focusing on what you can do to help yourself first. An unhealthy person cannot help another unhealthy person. Until the family learns how to care for themselves, they cannot possibly care for their loved one’s addiction or recovery. Here are the seven suggestions for supporting an addict or alcoholic loved one in your family or close circle.
- Accountability – Holding your loved one accountable for their addiction and behaviors is crucial. Allowing your loved one to be held accountable can help a family let go of their loved one until they let go of their addiction. Most addicts and alcoholics believe their problem is that everyone and everything else is the problem, and they have come to live as professional victims. When a family enables long enough, they instill entitlement in their loved one. These enabling behaviors can and will strip away accountability and prevent your loved one from wanting help, asking for help, or feeling the consequences of a bottom.
- Boundaries – Boundaries are essential during active addiction and early recovery. Families too often loosen their boundaries after their loved one has entered treatment. Families frequently forget that the behaviors that drove the addiction and those that were present during the addiction do not automatically stop when alcohol and drug use stops. While the family engages in their recovery efforts, they will hopefully learn the importance of boundaries with the substance user and toxic family members. If a family has no boundaries, it allows the substance user to control you, which takes away their accountability and fuels their entitlement.
- Enabling – Enabling does not just comfort the addict or alcoholic; it hurts the whole family in the process. When a family has a primary enabler, and all their attention and resources are devoted to the substance user, others suffer. Enabling an addict and an alcoholic is the easiest and quickest way to ensure they do not ask for help or feel the consequences and bottom of their addiction and lifestyle. We all know what enabling provides the substance user; comfort and the inability to see the need to change. The bigger question is, what does enabling provide the enabler? In other words, why does the enabler behave the way they do? Two of the biggest reasons are it gives the enabler the comfort of feeling needed in the relationship and allow them to feel as if they have a purpose. Most enablers do not see that the enabling is preventing their loved one from seeking help. Enablers often believe that if not for enabling, their loved one would be worse than they are.
- Detachment – Detachment does not mean cutting yourself off from your loved one. There are ways to detach from an addict or an alcoholic and still love them without enabling. Detachment requires setting boundaries, not enabling, holding your loved one accountable, and allowing them to feel the adverse effects of their behavior, choices, and addiction. Many people fear detachment because of the loss of control they experience when they let go of a drug addict or an alcoholic. When someone enables or allows their loved one to stay in their space, they are making it about themselves and not helping their loved one. People who cannot detach and enable their loved ones know at their core that they are not helping their loved ones. The primary enabler must see why they are making it about themselves at the expense of their loved one who needs help for their alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental health disorder.
- Communication – One of the many foundations of our S.A.F.E.™ (Self-Awareness Family Education™) Intervention & Family Recovery Coaching program is learning how to communicate with your loved one effectively. Families often do not understand why we suggest not communicating with their loved ones in the early stages of recovery. Communicating effectively with an addict or alcoholic requires training. Family fresh from a recent intervention is still raw and no different than before the intervention, just like their loved one is no different. It takes time before the addict, alcoholic, or person with a mental health disorder can learn how to communicate. It takes just as long, if not longer, for the family to work on their reactivity and trauma to have a productive conversation.
- Reactivity – When families retain our intervention services, they receive a copy of our S.A.F.E.™ (Self-Awareness Family Education™) Intervention and Family Recovery Coaching Manual. In this manual, we discuss reactivity in our aftercare section in depth. Reactivity is the number one problem families face. Your loved one is in treatment; we have told you not to communicate with them because you and your loved one are not ready, and you take their call anyway. What happens next is reactivity followed by chaos, confusion, drama, and anger toward our aftercare team. We cannot stress enough the importance of not speaking to your loved one until you can handle it. If you talk with them and call us in a reactive state, we will bring you back to why you took the call. The addict and alcoholics’ primary purpose is to create chaos and drama. The family’s unhealthy primary purpose is to react to the chaos and drama. What you just read is not an opinion; this is a clinical and scientific fact. It is the foundation of a dysfunctional family system. If a family must communicate, we suggest you set a boundary and let your loved one know that you will only communicate with them with their therapist, your Family First Recovery Coach, or both being present.
- Family Recovery – Family Recovery has to be as least as important as your loved ones’ recovery. Interventions are not paid 12-step calls, nor are they a simple speech or conversation between family members, the addict or alcoholic, and a mediator.
Interventions are about family recovery. Family intervention services can help by allowing professionals to guide you and your family on the six things you read above. Families cannot help themselves or their loved ones until they enter recovery. An addict or alcoholic cannot sponsor a newcomer until they are sober and of clear mind. The same applies to your family. You’re not prepared to sponsor someone if they are not ready to sponsor someone.
All of these things you just read tie together. Although our manual has several more topics to learn, these are some of the most important. Your family is just as affected as your loved one. A loved one in treatment does not mean things are better. After an intervention or after someone enters treatment, families struggle as much, if not more, than when their loved one is in active addiction.
Until the family is grounded in their recovery, they cannot support an addict or an alcoholic in recovery.
An intervention is not about how to control your loved one with a substance use or mental health disorder; it is about learning how to let go of believing you can.
How Family Can Help Their Loved one During the Recovery Process
Families can help their loved ones during recovery by helping themselves first. If you refer back to the seven tips for supporting an addict or alcoholic in recovery, none were directly about your loved one with an addiction or mental health disorder. Families are often reluctant to do an intervention for fear of the unknown and drastic changes that come with an intervention. Families often cling to the status quo because, over time, it becomes their new normal, and they are afraid to let go of the false sense of control. Families want to control the substance user when they arrive at the treatment center the same way they thought they were controlling them during the addiction. Families will eventually realize the only control they have is control over their recovery.
A good rule of thumb when you can help your loved one is when your Al-Anon sponsor allows you to sponsor people in the Al-Anon program.
Another good barometer when you can effectively communicate with the addict or alcoholic is when their sponsor has approved them to sponsor newcomers. Abstinence from drugs and alcohol is not addiction recovery, and separation from your loved one while they are in treatment is not family recovery. The behaviors of both the alcoholic and the drug addict are as volatile and emotional as the families during the addiction and after an intervention.
The best way to help your loved one is to allow the professionals to help guide you and your loved one through their respective curriculums. Families often crumble when they see or hear a loved one who looks and sounds better. They often quickly forget the problem with the addict or alcohol is not external; it lies within. The same applies to the family.
Think of it just like when you’re about to take off on an airplane.
The flight attendant says that before helping others with their oxygen mask, ensure yours is on first. In other words, before thinking you can help your loved one, take care of yourself first. To learn more about our S.A.F.E.™ (Self-Awareness Family Education™) Intervention & Family Recovery Coaching Program, please get in touch with our office to speak to one of our intervention coordinators.
An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
“The most formidable challenge we professionals face is families not accepting our suggested solutions. Rather, they only hear us challenging theirs. Interventions are as much about families letting go of old ideas as they are about being open to new ones. Before a family can do something about the problem, they must stop allowing the problem to persist. These same thoughts and principles apply to your loved one in need of help.”Mike Loverde, MHS, CIP